With a home game against Cleveland and road games at Oklahoma City, Chicago and San Antonio up next on the docket, the Dallas Mavericks knew it was imperative to win Sunday’s game at the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Especially after the Mavs were in a deep funk and hoisted up 44 3-point attempts in Friday’s 96-95 loss at Milwaukee.
So the Mavs rode a 29-point performance from Dirk Nowitzki and posted a 93-87 triumph over the Timberwolves before 14,363 at the Target Center. But can it be a springboard for success as the Mavs enter perhaps their toughest four-game stretch of the season?
“This is a huge win for us,” point guard Deron Williams said. “After the one we just had [in Milwaukee] this was a good one to come back and get.
“It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. We have a tough schedule coming up — three [games] in four nights against three really good teams — so we wanted to go into those with a win and with some confidence.”
After hosting LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Tuesday, the Mavs hit the road to play Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on Wednesday, Derrick Rose and the Bulls on Friday, and Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs on Sunday.
“I don’t look ahead, other than the game we’re playing next,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “The key thing is to get a lot of contributions, not have anybody have huge minutes, get home and get rested up and then lace it up on Tuesday night.
“It’s a tough stretch, a lot of good teams coming. It’ll be a very busy month. Each game is very important.”
The Cavs are the defending Eastern Conference champions, OKC is always a threat to win the Western Conference, the Bulls are one of the top teams in the East and the Spurs are considered by some the favorites to capture this year’s NBA title.
“If you look at the schedule this week, this has got to be as tough as it gets in this league with traveling, with back-to-backs, with only home for 48 hours,” Nowitzki said. “It’s a monster. But as you do in this league, you take it one game at a time. You go home, go through some stuff [Monday] and then get ready for a tough game against a very, very tough team.
“Obviously, with Kyrie [Irving] back [for the Cavs], they’re a beast. But we’ll focus on them some tomorrow and then go back out on the road.”
The Mavs (22-16) ended a three-game road trip with a 2-1 record. But it was still a four-point game with less than two minutes to go as Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins got loose for three baskets while being guarded by Wesley Matthews.
“It’s a hard matchup chasing a guy that’s 10 years younger than you and with that kind of athleticism and ability,” Carlisle said of the Matthews-Wiggins matchup. “But I thought Wes did a real solid job.
“Wiggins popped up and hit a few shots late, but I thought he made it hard on him. We didn’t shoot the ball great overall from the standpoint of our backcourt, but our guys played hard the whole game and that’s what’s important.”
It also was important to get another gritty performance from center Zaza Pachulia. By halftime, the 13-year veteran already had 11 points and 10 rebounds for his 19th double-double of the season.
Pachulia finished the game with 13 points and 11 rebounds, including six offensive boards.
“His rolls to the basket were good. He got a few of his points off second-chance, which gave him points and rebounds,” Carlisle said. “But he’s just aggressive and he’s tough, and he played really good minutes.”
Pachulia played 32 minutes and finished 4-of-9 shooting from the field. He also brings a lot of passion to the court.
“In the locker room, he’s not afraid to get in guys’ faces,” Nowitzki said. “He even spoke up at halftime in Milwaukee — he called us all soft. So he’s a veteran guy that wants to win, and we all love him.”
That love is evident as Nowitzki doesn’t even mind that Pachulia has almost twice as many All-Star votes as him.
“He deserves it,” Nowitzki said. “He told every Georgian there is to get online every day and vote for him.
“I’m happy for him, and he’s been incredible not only defensively and rebounding-wise, but offensively he’s really skilled. He knows how to pass. He does a lot of great things and we’re happy to have him.”
The Mavs also are happy to have Nowitzki, who at age 37 posted his second-highest scoring night of the season Sunday.
“He always works hard, and as you advance in age I do believe you have to work even harder to maintain a certain level of physical capability and skill,” Carlisle said of Nowitzki. “But that’s how he’s wired and that’s how he’s built.
“He’s built his life around this organization and playing at his highest possible level.”
The Mavs hope they’re all playing at their highest possible level this week.
“Every game is important,” Matthews said. “And it was good for us to get this win and get back [to Dallas] at a decent hour and get our bodies ready for a helluva back-to-back.”